By Alexis Cheney – @Alexis-Cheney

I started my first full-time job as a paralegal in the Department of Justice a little more than two months ago. After graduating from college, I spent months anticipating the monumental debut of my professional career. What exact projects would I work on? Who would be my colleagues? What would my office look like? A host of unknowns flickered vaguely in the distance until they blinded me when I walked through the office door on my first day.

As I crossed the threshold, the job I had anticipated slammed into the real deal. Although I enjoy a lot about my position and work environment, certain components of my job have challenged me and given me pause in ways I didn’t anticipate.

Challenge #1: The Monotony

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My primary task is to review documents, which involves reading the emails and internal reports of companies to decipher if they are engaging in illegal economic activities. I spend hours every day clicking through hundreds of documents, searching for a trace of evidence. During my first week, as I clicked through document after document, I found my mind traveling. Did I really move 400 miles away from home to a city where I have no close friends or family to stare at financial data all day? Did I choose the correct first job out of college? Is law the industry that best suits me?

Solution #1: Put Your Job Into Perspective

Performing a monotonous task can feel worthwhile when put into perspective. My job can help attorneys prosecute a criminal and protect Americans who have been robbed of money when purchasing necessities.

Listening to the chief of my division tell stories about attorneys who followed their gut about the culpability of an individual or a company (even when their coworkers tried to convince them to close the case) and eventually found evidence to convict the accused inspired me. In some odd way, the challenge and rarity of finding those gems within the documents glorifies the long, sometimes monotonous hunt for them.

When I first started, I was designated to one active case. I approached my supervisor and asked to work on more cases. Researching the background of the cases and the industries that relate to them quickly filled up my schedule. Over time, I’ve been tasked with more demanding and interesting tasks like preparing for witness interviews and writing interview memos.

To add even further variety to my tasks, I sought out pro bono work. This experience introduced me to legal research and civil rights law, giving me the chance to interact one-on-one with attorneys and work directly on behalf of a client.

Problem #2: Confusion and Pressure


My job is confusing. In order to understand a case, I need to research industries with which I am not familiar. When reviewing documents, I have theoretical questions about how a document I encounter does or does not corroborate theories of the case. In addition to fumbling through the theoretical aspects of my job, I occasionally forget the technical processes, like turning off limited search results to a certain number per page or not showing opposing counsel an interview outline.  

Solution #2: Ask Questions!

I’m often embarrassed to ask questions of the attorneys because I don’t want to waste their time or come across as unintelligent or non-resourceful. But asking clarifying questions helps me do my job more accurately and efficiently, and can help prevent me from making a mistake that would harm our case down the line.

Problem #3: Panic and Overthinking

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I have not had any epiphany in terms of my career goals. A range of careers appeal to me: human rights law, clinical psychology, journalism, working in the French embassy, being a folk singer… I feel like I have zillions of interests and no direction.

Solution #3: Talk it out

I often talk about career options and my future with the other paralegals in my office. Some plan to attend law school, while others want to enroll in graduate programs or continue in the workforce. Talking through different options is helpful in formulating my next careers steps. Soon, I hope to talk to attorneys to determine if I can see myself in their shoes, and whether or not I’d like to follow in their footsteps.

For more tips on making the most of your first job, check out this great article by Samantha Peaver from LinkedIn.